Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Russia shuts down human rights group Sakharov Center | Politics News

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A Russian court has ordered the closure of the Sakharov Center, a prominent human rights organisation that preserved the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, in the latest move in a widespread crackdown on dissent.

Moscow City Court said in a statement on Friday that it decided to dissolve the organisation, which launched nearly 30 years ago, for illegally hosting conferences and exhibitions.

The group had hosted hundreds of debates, exhibitions and other events since its creation in 1996.

In 2015, thousands of people gathered there to pay their last respects to opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin walls.

In January, Russia’s prosecutor general’s office said, the Andrei Sakharov Foundation in the United States had been added to a list of foreign and international non-governmental organisations whose activities were “recognised as undesirable” on Russian territory. Under a 2015 law, the label makes involvement a criminal offence.

It received an eviction notice from the Moscow city authorities in January and was vacated from its historic premises in April. All three premises, its main building, an exhibition hall, and one to Sakharov’s former apartment, used to be provided to the Sakharov Center free of charge.

Moscow’s Property Department said amendments to the controversial law on foreign agents, which took force on December 1 last year, forbid organisations and individuals labelled as foreign agents from receiving any state support.

Sakharov, who died in 1989, was a key figure in developing the Soviet Union’s hydrogen bomb programme but later become renowned for his activism in promoting human rights and freedom of conscience. He was awarded a Nobel prize in 1975 but was not allowed to travel to Norway to receive it. In 1980, he was sent into internal exile, which lasted six years.

The Sakharov Center received an eviction notice in January [File: Maxim Marmur/AP]

Kremlin critics have said authorities are widening a historic crackdown on dissent, with most opposition figures behind bars or in exile and top rights groups shut down.

In January, a court also ordered the closure of Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group.

And Memorial, which established itself as a key pillar in civil society, was disbanded by Russian authorities in late 2021, just months before Putin sent troops to Ukraine.

On Thursday, authorities charged Grigory Melkonyants, a leader of Golos, a prominent independent election monitoring group, with being involved with an “undesirable” organisation.

Melkonyants’s lawyer, Mikhail Biryukov, said his client was scheduled to appear in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Friday. He faces up to six years in prison.

Golos has not been labelled “undesirable”. But it was once a member of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations, a group that was declared “undesirable” in Russia in 2021.

Golos was founded in 2000 and has since played a key role in independent monitoring of elections in Russia.

Over the years, it has faced mounting pressure from the authorities. In 2013, it was designated a “foreign agent” – a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations.

Three years later, it was shuttered as a non-governmental organisation by the Ministry of Justice.

The authorities have also banned popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, and have targeted other online services with hefty fines.

On Thursday, a Russian court imposed a three million rouble ($32,000) fine on Google for failing to delete allegedly false information about the conflict in Ukraine.

The move by a magistrate’s court follows similar actions in early August against Apple and the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts Wikipedia.

According to Russian news reports, the court found that the YouTube video service, which is owned by Google, was guilty of not deleting videos with incorrect information about the conflict – which Russia characterises as a “special military operation”.

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